Co-pros are no-go

This week, instead of virtual reality, some cold hard reality: there’s no pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the Chinese co-production rainbow.

Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon and co-produced by Universal, Legendary, LeVision and China Film Group, succeeded in eliciting a universal “Meh” from audiences around the world, earning roughly $172 million USD in China (a figure which once would have been astonishing but now is unimpressive) and around $35 million USD in North America. With combined production and marketing expenses in the neighborhood of $250 million USD, and global revenues expected to peter out at $320 million USD (prior to exhibitors taking their share), it’s safe to say that investors in “the biggest-ever U.S.-China co-production” are less than thrilled.

On the bright side, we’ll hopefully be spared a glut of formulaic Great White Hope films set against the backdrop of other historical Middle Kingdom marvels, pimped by puffy Chinese real estate companies with their eager Hollywood studio mascots in tow. Folks actually have to think now, and that’s a good thing. So, let’s elevate that thinking with some straight talk.

First, the unfortunate fact is that…(full post on AWN)

Co-pros are no-go

Changchun’s a-changin’

Kevin Geiger iAVRrc Changchun 4

I spent an interesting 24 hours in the historical seat of China’s film industry this past weekend, participating in the Changchun Film Education & Culture Industry Forum on behalf of the Beijing Film Academy’s International Animation & Virtual Reality Research Center.

Kevin Geiger iAVRrc Changchun 1

VR view:

Following a tour of the vast site of Changchun’s future cultural industry zone, we provided local officials with recommendations on academic and industry development for the new content era, with my own contributions focused upon immersive media.

Kevin Geiger iAVRrc Changchun 3

Kevin Geiger iAVRrc Changchun 2

VR view:

Kevin Geiger iAVRrc Changchun 5

VR view:

Changchun’s a-changin’

China goes Wilde for “Zootopia”

Zootopia China

Disney’s ZOOTOPIA made box office history this weekend when it became the top-grossing animated film of all time in China with over one billion RMB (more than $174 million USD), surpassing the reigning champ, DreamWorks’ KUNG FU PANDA 3.

In doing so, the talented folks at Disney Animation Studios have engaged Chinese audiences in a way that their colleagues at Pixar still fail to. Despite being revered by Chinese animation students, and by mainland companies aspiring to be “the Chinese Pixar” (usually without any real comprehension of what that entails), Pixar has an ongoing relevance problem in China (demonstrating that “quality” alone is perhaps not the best business model). Forbes addressed this struggle in an article last October – charting Pixar’s inability to outperform middling flicks such as PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR, MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN and THE SMURFS in mainland China – prior to the release of Pixar’s Academy Award-winning INSIDE OUT.

In addition to being a great film by a brilliant director, INSIDE OUT was also a business success by all reasonable accounts: grossing $856.8 million USD worldwide, with $356.46 million USD of that in North America and $500.35 million USD in international receipts. Yet in mainland China, INSIDE OUT only grossed $15.32 million USD: just 3.1% of its international total and a mere 1.8% of its worldwide gross. Only poor BRAVE checks in lower with 0.8% of its worldwide gross coming from China. With Disney’s second-largest theme park about to open in the world’s second largest film market, you can be sure that this resonance gap is a topic of conversation in the Disney board room.

So, what makes China go “Wilde” for ZOOTOPIA? Western studios hoping to appeal to Chinese audiences with the inclusion of superficial “Chinese elements” should note that ZOOTOPIA contains none whatsoever. Based on my observation in Chinese theaters, scrolling through WeChat posts, and conversations with Chinese colleagues, the appeal of ZOOTOPIA in China (and specifically, to China’s young adult females) appears to be: that it is funny but “real” (anyone who has sat all day in a Chinese bank or bureau gets the sloths); Judy is a relatable heroine (particularly with her parents’ pseudo-supportive encouragement to stifle her dreams); and Nick Wilde is a rakishly charming anti-hero (with a wounded heart in need of redemption, no less).

It’s been interesting to see the recent spate of fan art popping up online, depicting a love interest between Judy and Nick (all G-rated, of course – this is China). Nick Wilde appears to have usurped BIG HERO SIX’s Baymax as the ideal Chinese women hope their boyfriends would aspire to. And just as well. Despite earlier online buzz about Baymax being the “perfect boyfriend”, all the ladies in the house should know that Baymax would drive you batty after just a few hours (if that long). Nick Wilde is quicker on the uptake and a lot more fun to hang out with.

Has Disney cracked “the China Code” with ZOOTOPIA? Time will tell. Like most box office successes, the true driving factors are almost always a surprise (if even recognized) and rarely repeatable. In any event, foreign interests will only be allowed a certain amount of success in mainland China. Ever since Chinese media authorities were embarrassed in 2012 by foreign films taking more than 50% of mainland box office receipts, control over global fare has been exerted in increasingly unpredictable and effective ways. Foreign film fortunes will be pegged as a minority percentage of China’s domestic box office for the foreseeable future.

What IS happening is that studios such as Disney are training China’s “cinematic AI”. By way of analogy, Google co-founder Larry Page remarked in 2002 that rather than establishing a search engine, Google was really building an artificial intelligence – one that became “smarter” with your every click and query. Flash forward to 2016, when Google’s “AlphaGo” AI is trouncing human Go master Lee Sedol after being “crowd-trained” via its analysis of 30 million moves from games played by Go experts.

The true beneficiary of ZOOTOPIA’s success is China, who controls the board, controls the players, supports its local teams, and continues to learn and improve with every move. The house always wins.

China goes Wilde for “Zootopia”

Joe Aguilar gives Huayi Brothers a Wink


As reported in Variety and other news outlets, former Oriental DreamWorks head Joe Aguilar has been appointed as CEO of Wink Animation, a new animation subsidiary of Huayi Brothers Media Corp. in China.

Joe Aguilar gives Huayi Brothers a Wink

Big fish


Investors hoping for big returns from China’s volatile stock market should turn instead to China’s film industry, where Stephen Chow’s THE MERMAID has become the biggest box office hit in Chinese history, with more than $382 million USD since its release date of February 8th, beating the previous record holder, Raman Hui’s formidable MONSTER HUNT.

Likewise, multi-national corporations hoping for big returns from their foreign films should take note of the clear preference of Chinese audiences (and officials) for high-quality local content, in an industry which is truly undergoing revolutionary growth.


Big fish

Show us your Chinese shorts


Eastward Entertainment, in cooperation with the China Film Copyright Association and Wefilm, announces the CN Shorts competition, which aims to help young Chinese talent gain international exposure and access a fast track to key content decision-makers in China and abroad.

In the words of organizer Vincent Fischer: “CN Shorts looks for internationally-minded Chinese women and men who are willing to become global film directors.”

Awards will be presented across ten categories, with nominees & award winners chosen by a jury of 80 international entertaiment insiders and influencers.

Check out for more information on the competition and how to submit your Chinese shorts.

Show us your Chinese shorts

VR evangelists, prophets & pioneers

iAVRrc forum Dec 2015 participants
The “Future Trends In Stereoscopic Filmmaking & Virtual Reality” forum in Beijing.

Chris Colman has posted his 10 key takeaways from the “Future Trends In Steresoscopic Filmmaking & Virtual Reality” forum in Beijing.

Check out Colman’s summary at SHP+.